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Features & profiles


Tom & Peter Hain - Byron Bay lad & his British Cabinet Minister brother

27 November 2002

Published in The Two of Us column in the Good Weekend (Age and Sydney Morning Herald)

As an early 1970s activist leader, Peter Hain derailed South Africa’s sporting tours of Britain and Australia. Now he’s Britain’s deputy foreign secretary. In September he visited his brother Tom, who lives in Byron Bay. Tom Hain (at 50, two years younger), was a rock tour manager, and is now an Apple Macintosh consultant. The boys bonded closely in their South African childhood, when their parents were “banned” then jailed for their efforts to end apartheid. The family fled for Britain in 1966, when the boys were teenagers.

When our car was followed by the South African security police, my parents used to wind them up completely. My father would drive off really fast, and they’d madly chase us. My parents made it into a big joke for the kids - so we wouldn’t get freaked out I suppose.
For me it was just exciting. For Peter it was serious. He took on a lot more than I did. He had a grown-up head on his shoulders, even as a kid. He’s always been like that - very together, and seeing the big picture. I hadn’t a clue what was going on really - just having fun. Story of my life: just having fun. Story of Pete’s life: keeping it all together.
We shared bedrooms from when we were very young till we left home. We did everything together: playing football, bicycle-riding. But instead of just a lot of kids on bikes - this is typical Peter - he organised teams, and made a circuit, with poll positions, races, someone writing down lap times.
Just before Peter came over this time I was talking to my older boy, who was being violent to his little brother, and I said, “Your Uncle Peter, in the entire time of my childhood, never hit me once.” That’s Peter: he’d never do anything unfair.
The move to Britain wasn’t good for me: England was so grey and cold, and formal. I dropped out of school as early as possible. Pete didn’t get fazed by things. He achieved top marks in everything, then went on to uni and achieved top marks there, and did...what do you call it when you do a thesis? I only got a degree here in Australia, after I came out in ‘93.
After we left school there was the effort to stop the 1970 [South African sporting] tours. In those days I was more interested in politics. It was great fun going out with Pete and painting the motorways from the airport in the middle of the night.
Once a mail-bomb arrived [from the South African security police] at our London home. I’d been out all night raging and getting stoned. So I was sleeping it off in the next room while the family had breakfast. My sister just happened to open the wrong end of the package. If she’d opened the other end, it would have blown up.
Peter was in opposition for years, and when they got elected, it was like: “Yes!” Maggie Thatcher used to make families apply for a voucher to access childcare assistance, to make the welfare users stand out. Peter repealed it. I said, “How is it being in government Pete?” He said, “It’s great - you can actually do things! We abolished Thatcher’s voucher system!”
He’s a politician with integrity, which is very rare. I’d trust him with my life. He’s someone who will do what he believes is right, and not just toe the party line. And I think that’s why he’s not in the Cabinet: they’re still not quite sure that if it comes to the crunch...
He’s thought out what he thinks about all the issues. I’ve got a more emotional response. When I went back to England in November I said, “How could you support this war in Afghanistan?” But he was party to the transcripts of the conversations between Bush and Blair. And he said to me privately, “It would have been much worse if Blair hadn’t gone there to chill Bush out.” Maybe there would have been nukes used - who knows? I had to accept that.
That’s the world he’s in, the compromise world. I’m completely outside the system: I’ve never been able to come to terms with it. I haven’t even got a mortgage.
But we’re still both absolute dyed-in-the-wool Chelsea supporters. When I was over there we went to Chelsea, and sat in the Directors’ Box. I thought: Oh, this is good: shouting abuse at the ref from the Directors’ Box.

We were best friends throughout our childhood. I remember playing football with him in Pretoria till it was too dark to see the ball.
I think the move to Britain affected him quite badly. My parents were worried about me, because I was in a delicate stage in my exams - I was 16, he was nearly 14. They probably should have been more worried about Tom.
Tom and I were football nuts. We’d chosen our team before we left South Africa. One of our first English memories is going to see Chelsea play at home. My mother and father went on a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmanent march. Tom and I went to see Chelsea. And we’ve stayed fanatics ever since.
I don’t know whether he’s told you this, but in 1970 we went out one night and painted NO TO BOKS - with some paint that stayed there for years - on the motorway coming into central London. The Springboks coach came in, and they saw it right at the beginning of their visit. It was really, really big. It was quite hairy.
Then, suddenly his brother was swept up into being a national media figure, and a political leader. And a hate figure as well. It was probably quite difficult for him to cope with.
As adults, we moved in different worlds, but we were always very close when we saw each other. I was very interested in the bands he was with, though our musical tastes are a bit different. We both like South African township music, and the Pretenders, and singers like Billy Bragg.
Tom’s a really passionate person. He’s concerned about his environment, and sensitive to people. I don’t think he’s terribly ambitious. It really makes me happy seeing him in Australia. He didn’t really like England. This is much more of the South African ambience I think - openness, a nice climate, lots of space...on the beach with his sons. So when he came over, I was sorry he was so far away, but also pleased that - from the moment he got here - he loved it so much.
We still talk about everything - from how he wants to buy his own place but doesn’t have the money for a deposit, to how his business is going, to what we’re going to do on Iraq - or not do. Everything.
He would probably see me as more of an establishment figure. I don’t mind that. I think you need radical voices. But he’s always incredibly excited by what I’m doing, and supportive. He might not always approve - I don’t know. But I’m proud of him, and I’d like to think that he’s proud of me.

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